Summary: If you miss a key ingredient of this story, you end up turning its meaning on its head.
Sermon: Prodigal son: The Missing Ingredient
Text: Luke 15:11-32
Occasion: Trinity IX
Who: Mark Woolsey
Where: Arbor House
When: Sunday, July 24, 2005
Where: TI Morning Prayer
August 12, 2005
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Have any of you ever made a pan of cookies or something like it? You could smell the fragrance of the baking confection as it wafted through the house. Finally the buzzer goes off and you pull out your masterpiece. Your mouth waters as you take an eagerly-anticipated piece and gleefully put the soft warm morsel in your mouth. You bite down on it and ... your face takes on a rather puzzled expression. What’s wrong with it? It looks good, it smells good, it feels good, but it the taste is a little off. You think and you think, and then finally you realize what happened. You forgot one ingredient. It wasn’t a large one, but it was important. One tablespoon of vanilla can make a noticable difference in taste. I believe the same thing can be said of our Gospel text today. Many sermons have been preached and many commentaries have been written about this story, but there several aspects - some larger, some smaller - of it that are frequently overlooked. When they are missing, the story is ruined because the message is completely reversed. It becomes spiritually distasteful.
What I would like to do today is to present some aspects of this story, ingredients in the recipe if you will, making sure that we understand them, so that, just like cookies are to us, we can be a sweet aroma to the Lord.
I. The father’s love of sinners.
First of all,we see the father’s love for his wayward son. This is an obvious aspect of the story and one that is brought out again and again. We notice that the father sees his son from afar off. Rather than being preoccupied with other concerns, his father has been looking longingly down the road, waiting for the first glimpse of his son. We notice that v20 tells us that it was the father who saw the son, and not the other way around, that happened first. The father never gave up concerning his son’s return. He was ready with open arms. Matthew Henry tells us:
He (the father) expressed his kindness before the son expressed his repentance. Even before we call he answers; for he knows what is in our hearts. How lively are the images presented here! Here were eyes of mercy, ... bowels of mercy, ... feet of mercy, ... lips of mercy.
Of course, the father in this story represents our Father in Heaven. He is more willing to receive us that we are to go to Him. His joy over our return is greater than our misery while in rebellion. He is the Father that tenderly receives returning children.
II. The son’s repentance.
Another obvious part of the parable is the son’s repentance. If the son had not understood his predicament, decided to return, crafted his confession, and made the long journey back home there would be no parable. The fact that he did and that his father received him gives us hope that our Father in Heaven will receive us when we repent. Repentance means a reorientation of our priorities, and that’s painful. There’s simply no other way around it.
III. The peevishness of the elder brother
The third major point is the peevishness of the elder brother. His imputant sibling had wasted a significant part of the family fortune, dishonored the family name, and come back w/no restitution; yet Dad was throwing a big party for him. In fact, it was this very thing, a party, that that had been the ruin of the younger brother’s inheritance. It was as wasteful as it was undeserved. Suprisingly, a family resemblence can almost be seen here, not between the father and the oldest, but between the father and the youngest. They both loved to party. You see, repentance does not mean to stop having fun; in fact, I would say that true repentance leads to more joy than we could ever find otherwise.
IV. Other aspects
Yet there are some other, more subtle, aspects to this story that I think need to be brought out or we will miss what Jesus is attempting to display to us. These points can be brought out with a series of questions.
IV. Purpose of the story
The first question is, "What was Jesus’ main point of this story? Why was He telling it?" Many assume that the main point is regeneration. The young man needs to be born again, so this is how to do it. Of course, that would make this story a manual on how to give birth to one’s self, which is absurd. Furthermore, the youth in this story starts out as a son. He’s already been born. He’s a wayward son, but a son nevertheless. He is a wandering member of the family, not a complete outsider. None of this is the main point. This parable is the third in a series that Jesus told in response to the Pharisees and scribes complaint, "This Man receives sinners and eats with them" (v1). Jesus was trying to justify why His ministry had been such a miserable failure at attracting the right kind of people. His congregation was not the merchants and businessmen, but the streetwalkers, traitors, and rough characters. First He tells of the shepherd who lost one sheep and goes to look for it, second of the woman who lost one of her 10 coins and frantically searches until she finds it, and third the Prodigal Son. All three of these parables end in a big party that the finder throws when he finds that which was lost. The main point is not the thing lost, but the joy of the finder.